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Selling Wine

1982 Château Cheval Blanc

Chevalblanc That's not good enough for you? How about Trotanoy 1970, Haut Brion 1982 or Lafite: 1970, 1976, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003. These are just a few of the wines being offered in an upcoming auction by Hart, Davis and Hart in Chicago. Literally thousands of bottles are being sold and the list, offered in a hard cover book exceeding one hundred pages, offers the very best of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone, Italy and California. Owner John Hart, who I have known for almost thirty years, is one of the top rare and fine wine professionals in the country and his firm was selected to offer for auction The Fox Cellar, which includes the wines above and seemingly countless others. They will be offered for auction over two days, September 19th and 20th. Included in the event is a sumptuous lunch at Chicago's famous Tru Restaurant, where the auction is held.

President Paul Hart recounts in the auction book his first visit to the cellar as they prepared for the auction. There he saw more than 1,000 bottles of Domaine de la Romanee Conti, 65 cases of Petrus, 95 cases of Château Marqaux, 150 cases of Mouton, 90 cases of Haut-Brion, 120 cases of Latour, 45 cases of Cheval Blanc and 130 cases of Lafite. What most of us can never comprehend is all of this wine is owned by a person. One guy bought all of this and more than we can imagine and built a place to keep it. Even with the thousands of bottles that Hart, Davis and Hart are offering in this auction only a portion of the Fox Cellar is being offered. He is keeping more than he can ever drink and still offering up over one hundred pages of the world's most famous wines for sale.

If you've ever wondered why these wines sell for such stratospheric prices, this cellar is a prime example. All around the planet obsessed collectors amass cellars with far more wine in them than not only they, but their heirs can drink before their bottles turn into a pale reflection of the glorious nectars they once contained. Wines like these are no longer wines, but things to be possessed as a symbol of success and power. That's why they cost what they  do. There is something about the acquisition of 1,440 bottles of Latour or 1,560 bottles of Lafite by an individual that is offensive. Like great art hidden from the public in private collections instead of being shared with all as part of our human patrimony, some things are just too important to all of us too be hoarded away by Scrooge.

Fortunately these gems are being liberated before they fade into feeble old age. I cannot overstate how exceptional many of these wines are and experiencing them at this state of maturity is like seeing the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper for the first time. They are not beverages, but art. Like great art, these bottles are not cheap and the risk in purchasing them is not insignificant. Bottles of 1982 Cheval Blanc can be corked too. In such a situation you need someone to guide you and I can think of no better guide than John Hart and his compatriots at Hart, Davis and Hart. Over the decades, John has devoted himself with passion and rigid ethical standards to bringing wines to his customers in pristine condition. If you're going to spend this kind of money, John is someone to depend on.

Most of us will rarely or ever buy, much less drink such wines, but this is the world that Lafite and Latour live in and why they cost what they do. Even if you're not buying, taking a look at this web site for this auction as it's a real peep show for wine voyeurs. I guess great wine is like pornography, you know it when you see it: and this is it.

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W.S.W.A. Vegas 08

Image (4) W.S.W.A, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of American is the association of America’s largest liquor distributors. It is also the lobby that does everything possible to prevent the smallest winery anywhere in America from shipping a few bottles of wine to consumers in another state. Driven by the same wisdom that the N.R.A. uses to justify the sale of AK-47’s as sporting rifles (I guess they’re right if the prey are humans) the W.S.W.A protects America’s youth from partying down on $50 bottles of wine that they think taste like shit and have to wait weeks to get. Thank god they are there to protect America’s teenagers from alcohol in the same way that the N.R.A. has protected America’s youth at Northern Illinois University (my father’s alma mater) and Virginia Tech among so many others.Image (8)

In my past I was part of an idealistic company (long on ideals and short on cash) that had to sell out for financial reasons and was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force that promised they just wanted to get into the fine wine business. After I cut the deal with the devil, part of my new duties included yearly attendance at the annual convention of the W.S.W.A and never have I felt more soiled and embarrassed in my life as a wine professional. The only purpose of the W.S.W.A. is to preserve the monopoly of large liquor distributors that also happen to sell wine as a sideline because it lets them touch an elegance and sophistication that they aspire to, but can never understand or achieve.

To see proof of this we only have to visit their own brochure for their upcoming convention in Las Vegas (the perfect location for them), where W.S.W.A. president and C.E.O. Craig Wolf tells prospective attendees while he understands they are there for business (wink wink, nudge, nudge), they certainly wouldn’t want to miss the ribbon cutting ceremony, which will be done by a Penthouse Playmate. Such elegance defines the W.S.W.A. I confess the four years I was compelled to attend the W.S.W.A. convention were low points of my professional career. After three days with this crowd you understand that they not only don’t care about wine, but can’t understand it. For them, it’s just another beverage to sell with the same passion they put into selling Red Bull or whatever. As far as drinking wine, for them it’s only the alcohol that goes between the multiple Martinis before dinner and more booze after dinner. One thing for sure is that every W.S.W.A. convention I attended was an event stewed in sleaze that always made me feel dirty by even being associated with it. Can you imagine how professional women that attend these W.S.W.A. conventions must feel?

The photos around this post are all from the the promotional brochure for the 2008 W.S.W.A. convention. They are proud to present themselves in this light.These are the people that want to control what wine you drink. The people that organize this debauchery in Vegas are the very same people that say they want to protect your children from the evils of winery direct sales. Look at the morals they promote to their own members. Do you believe they care about Image (5)your children. Of course they don’t. It’s all about money: their money.

This topic had come up just a few weeks ago in another post and I will reiterate my compliments to Tom Wark at Fermentation and the Specialty Wine Retailers for leading the fight against what can only be viewed as an anti-fine wine organization. As the proud father of a beautiful 26 year old woman closing in on her Masters Degree in Social Work, I also despair at the crass misogyny of this organization. Make no mistake, such people have no interest in protecting you from anything. If they can think of a way to make enough money selling vodka to your fourteen-year-old daughter they’ll do it, but until they can figure out how to do that they’ll act like they want to protect her.

If you have any last doubts about their integrity, the keynote speaker for W.S.W.A 2008 in Vegas is Tony Snow, who spent most of the last few years defending Bush and Cheney. I don’t think you’ll see many Obama or Clinton buttons at W.S.W.A. 2008 in Vegas. What you see here are their photos and words, this is what they are proud of and how they want to present themselves to their own members. Remember this the next time they tell you how much they want to protect your family. Take my word for it, I’ve been there. These old guys in their silk suits and gold chains leering at these twenty-something (hopefully) girls are not worthy of your trust. They’re just a bunch of dirty old men and their sons who want your money and will do anything to take it.

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Mother Nature's Son

wswa We think of wine as such a natural and beautiful thing. It’s an artisanal product that brings a connection to nature to all those that ponder and enjoy it. Wine is Mother Nature’s Son.

Unfortunately, only a few measly percentage points of total wine production has such idyllic origins. The vast majority of wines produced are soulless industrial products, which are appropriately sold and marketed by an equally heartless industrial system of distributors. This is the middle tier of the so called “three tier system. The executives of companies that mass produce these industrial wines and those that mass distribute them move from beverage industry to beverage industry seamlessly. It doesn’t matter if they’re producing or selling Coke, Rock Star, Budweiser, Gatorade or Rutherford Hill (all companies that they slip in and out of as they move up the ladder): boxes are boxes and their job is to move them. They accomplish their mission with ruthless efficiency.

It is these cool predators that control the means by which wines go from winemaker to consumer no matter the size of the production or quality of the wine. The billions of dollars they generate selling vodka, rum, tequila and mass wine brands fund one of the dirtier lobby groups out there, the W.S.W.A. They take their millions and buy politicians who deliver them legislation that gives them market franchises not unlike your local cable company enjoys and you know how well that goes.

As you might imagine, the needs of small wine producers and fine wine consumers are buried under this mountain of sleaze and political corruption as their small voices are not likely to be heard by politicians being wined/boozed and dined in sky boxes at big time sporting events.

The 2005 Supreme Court ruling that would supposedly finally allow small producers to ship directly to consumers throughout the nation was met with a great celebration by wineries. However, what seemed a blessing soon turned into a nightmare as state after state enacted restrictive legislation that finally made the situation even worse than the bad system it replaced. Funded primarily by liquor profits, large distributors and mass liquor/wine companies have used their muscle to make it more difficult than ever for some tiny winery up in the hills of California, Washington, Oregon or other state to ship a few cases a year to a consumer that loves their wine, but would find it impossible to buy in their own market. Mind you they could care less about such wines and wouldn’t bother to ever sell them, but their paranoia drives them to seek total control. As hard as it seems to believe, producers making millions of cases of wine and marketing them through ultra-sophisticated marketing systems perceive some guy with 5 acres of pinot noir, an old tractor and some used tanks in a rutom warkn down barn picking his grapes in the rain and cold as some kind of threat that must be crushed.

Through all of this mess there has been only one clear voice out here trying to protect the interests of consumers and small producers. That voice belongs to Tom Wark, who exposes these issues through his blog Fermentation and as director of The Speciality Wine Retailers Association. Anyone craving access to the wines of small, passionate winemakers should visit these sites and sign up for the SWRA newsletter. Like the muckraking journalists of the past, Wark is exposing the political corruption and under the table money that is preventing you from buying the wines you want without having to wait for some distributor decide for you what you should be drinking.

Fine wine and food may be Mother Nature’s sons and daughters, but there is nothing about the system that gets wines from producer to the consumer that’s natural.

Mamietage: "age" Without the Merit

mamieandglass This being too funny not to share, I post this press release without further comment, as none is needed. The wines from Armida winery must be really great if they choose to participate in projects such as this. Warning: do not attempt to peel away your computer screen. This only works if you buy a bottle.

For Immediate Release:
Sonoma County/ Beverly Hills- Screen legend and notorious blond bombshell Mamie Van Doren, will team with Wine Country Cellars and launch the first limited edition of collectible Mamietage® wine bottles  at a VIP/Press reception on Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club in Santa Rosa. Mamie Van Doren will attend.

Mamie is releasing a new series of wine labels on 1.5 Liter bottles featuring three images of Mamie. Two of the images are of Mamie today, and the third image is from Mamie at age 21. The wine labels are unique in that they all feature nude poses of Mamie covered up by a top, clear "peel away" label that has stars strategically placed. Peel the label away, and there is Mamie nude. The peel away portion is attached, and can be replaced to it's original form. The wine is called Mamietage®, a Bordeaux blend from Sonoma County's Armida Winery, and is a limited production of only 2000 bottles of each image. Each of the 2000 bottles will be individually numbered.
"The delicious Bordeaux blend of Cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot, syrah and malbec was made and bottled by Armida Winery. This is a beautiful, rich wine with flavors of black cherry, vanilla, and a touch of chocolate. The light tannins and medium body give way to a long, fruit filled finish."

WSWA and the Pure Faith

belloq-and-bad-guys.jpgRene Belloq: You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.
Indiana Jones: Now you’re getting nasty.

For years, after the acquisition of our old company by Paterno Imports, I was obligated to attend the annual Wine and Spirits Wholesalers (WSWA) convention - an event that makes you feel like you need a bath if you’re in the fine wine business. It always reminded me of the scene above from Raiders of the Lost Ark because just attending the WSWA convention made you wonder if you were a Belloq or an Indiana Jones and when they included me as one of the boys it made me want to say, “now you’re getting nasty”. In fact, as you surveyed the bar in the convention hotel overrun with guys with gold chains and women in too tight, too short dresses it was hard to tell the difference between the conventioneers and the pimps and whores attending them.

The new product show is always a highlight of this event and it never, never features wine. For example, I remember the Jell-o shot years where one company hired “models” dressed as nurses in a porno movie to hand feed their new brand of Jell-o shots to conventioneers within inches of their well exposed breasts. Another famed booth offered “Black Death Vodka” in a stand featuring a real Indy Car, well associating drinking Vodka and driving at high speeds.

It is this orgy of sleaze and money, powered by spirits not wine, that drives the WSWA and it mass market distributor members who could give a sh*t about wine except for the fact that their giant spirit suppliers force them to sell it. 

In this context, the recent hopeful comments by writers like Tom Warkand Mary Baker  concerning the departure of CEO Jaunita Duggan seem all to optimistic. The departure of Duggan will mean nothing and as long as the engine that drives WSWA remains sprits they will continue to attack small wine producers with every weapon at their command. Duggan is not departing WSWA because of recent court decisions favoring small producers, but for bigger bucks somewhere else. Let’s face it, paper is a bigger industry than wine or spirits.

If you have any hope that the WSWA will see the light and become a friend of the small wine producer you only have to attend one of their conventions and your hopes will quickly be dashed. The fine wine people that live too long with the WSWA and the culture of large spirits distributors become Belloq, not Indiana Jones and we have little hope from them, after all, look who Belloq threw his cards in with.

Wente Vineyards and Foreigner Create ''Legends of Wine & Rock'

ForeignerLIVERMORE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 21, 2006--In a cross-promotion illustrating the emergence of wine as the adult beverage of choice on a rock and roll scene long dominated by spirits and beer, Wente Vineyards has teamed with legendary rock band Foreigner to create the "Legends of Wine & Rock" pre-concert wine tastings. These exclusive gatherings represent a first-of-its-kind opportunity for fans to meet Foreigner, while sipping wines from Wente Vineyards. A sweepstakes to win a trip to The Concerts at Wente Vineyards to see Foreigner live in 2007, and free online music downloads, are also part of the promotion. To date, nineteen events are set for 2006 in eight states and four countries.

This is one of the most appropriate pairings I’ve seen in a long time. Sales of Wente wines and Foreigner CDs are sure to skyrocket! It really shows you how bad the PR problem is for the Wente brand, when they have to team up with a has-been rock group to improve their image. Come to think of it, it also shows you how bad the situation is for Foreigner when the only wine brand they can partner with is Wente.

Wente and Foreigner are certainly names that will live on as legends. Legends of what I’m not sure.